As IHO writer Rob Browne pointed out to me Sunday night, this was a topsy-turvy weekend for Ivy hoops. Comebacks came and went, winning and losing streaks were snapped and the race for the league tournament No. 4 seed got muddled:
1. Princeton (15-6, 8-0)
Princeton is now in the midst of an 11-game win streak after holding on against Columbia and Cornell, building the cushion it will need with four straight road games ahead, including a Friday night date with Yale at Payne Whitney Gym.
The Tigers built a 46-26 lead against Columbia Saturday night early in the second half before Princeton managed just 15 points in the final 17:38. The Lions scored 33 points in that span, resulting in a 61-59 final that makes the February 24 rematch all the more intriguing. Senior forward Steven Cook scored nine of those final 15 points for Princeton, all three-pointers, giving the Tigers just enough offense to get the win as the team cooled off. Cook has now been the KenPom game MVP in two of Princeton’s biggest Ivy wins so far (versus Columbia and at Harvard) and continues to establish himself as a prime Ivy Player of the Year candidate.
Princeton wisely fouled three times to get the clock down to three seconds left, limiting the time the Lions had to tie or win the game. reflecting how clean the matchup was throughout: both teams attempted only 10 free throws combined. The Tigers and Lions combined to make 21 three-pointers and yet neither team scored more than 61 points, demonstrating the solid interior defense both squads played.
The Tigers had yielded a 19-4 run to open the second half the previous night hosting Cornell, but they responded to that run by excelling inside with nine layups from Cook, Spencer Weisz, Myles Stephens and Devin Cannady in the next 8:26. It was the third time in the past four games at that point that Weisz had scored at least 21 points.
Just as you’d expect with Cornell coach and former Princeton standout Brian Earl facing the Tigers, both teams made hay in the paint. The two teams combined to score 33 layups, with 21 coming in the second half. If there’s one thing we know about “Princeton offenses,” it’s that they’re patient.
T2. Harvard (14-7, 6-2)
In both games of a highly promising weekend for Harvard, the Crimson found another gear, serving notice to the rest of the league that they’re a rising force to be reckoned with.
At Yale, that other gear was aided by an eight-point burst from freshman guard Bryce Aiken in a span of 1:29 that gave the Crimson a lead with 9:03 left that it never relinquished again after they had trailed 36-31 at halftime.
Aiken scored 50 points this weekend, including 27 in just 29 minutes at Yale and Chambers added 16 points, totaling 43 of Harvard’s 75 points in a 75-67 victory that snapped Yale’s 22-game home win streak. Harvard currently boasts the league’s most explosive backcourt, an important advantage to have as March beckons.
At Brown Friday night, that other gear emerged with the Crimson trailing 56-48 with 10:36 left. Sophomore forward Weisner Perez, excelling in a spark plug role, snagged an offensive rebound after having collected a defensive board at the other end, resulting in a Siyani Chambers made jumper. Then Perez made two free throws and registered a block at the other end, loosening what proved to be an effective Harvard transition game. With Chambers anchoring the Crimson offense and senior center Zena Edosomwan posting nine rebounds, eight points and two blocks in just 15 minutes, Harvard completed the game on an 39-18 run for an 87-74 victory as Brown threw away opportunities at the foul line.
And that’s where Harvard won this game. The Crimson went 23-for-24 from the free throw line at Brown and went 15-for-17 at Yale the following night, a 92.7 percent clip that would have been unimaginable last season when Harvard ranked next to last in the country in free throw percentage.
Four of Harvard’s last six games are at Lavietes Pavilion, giving the Crimson an edge as the Ivy stretch run commences.
T2. Yale (14-7, 6-2)
Yale’s been a poor first-half team in league play, so it’s ironic that its first loss at John J. Lee Amphitheater since February 2015 came in a game it led 36-31 at halftime. Yale did not score a three-pointer in the second half and went 3-for-16 from that range for the game. Its three-point percentage has taken a nose dive in league play (32.6) from what it was in nonconference play (36.9), which is concerning.
In its 73-64 win over Dartmouth, six Bulldogs scored at least eight points, an encouraging balance. Sophomore guard Alex Copeland notched 14 points in just 16 minutes, continuing his season as one of the most efficient offensive players in the league. Freshman forward Jordan Bruner also got in on the efficiency action, putting up nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 23 minutes. But the Elis turned the ball over 19 times against a Big Green defense that typically doesn’t collect a lot of turnovers, and Yale ranks seventh in the conference in turnover percentage. Yale has also turned the ball over more than its opponent in every Ivy game but one (at Cornell), another trend that is going to hurt the Bulldogs more and more as league play keeps going.
4. Columbia (10-11, 4-4)
Columbia entered this weekend with a four-game lead over Penn in the race for the Ivy League Tournament’s No. 4 seed and exit it with a two-game lead. The good news for the Lions is that Brown and Cornell both got swept too, making Columbia’s losses at Penn and Princeton a little less impactful.
In both of its games this weekend, Columbia made second-half comebacks that fell just a little short.
Despite shooting 10-for-19 from deep at Jadwin Gym, Columbia hit just 38.2 percent of its two-pointers there, finishing the weekend last in the league in two-point percentage in conference play. Freshman guard Mike Smith hit four of five three-point attempts and also led the Lions with six rebounds, attaining his highest usage rate of the season following what was tied for his second-highest usage rate at Penn the previous night. Smith is shouldering more and more of the offensive burden.
Columbia is the worst in the league in allowing offensive rebounds on defense, and its 2-3 zone allowed Penn to dominate that category to the tune of 19 offensive boards, including five from sophomore center Max Rothschild in the first half alone. Columbia shot an abysmal 12-for-30 (30 percent) from two-point range, a theme that could wreck the Lions’ path toward the Ivy League Tournament if it doesn’t stop.
T5. Penn (9-12, 2-6)
Penn got the weekend sweep it desperately needed, pouring on some style points in an obliteration of Cornell for good measure. Coach Steve Donahue watched Sunday afternoon as his current team pulverized his former school, building 42-14 and 60-30 leads that left the Big Red stunned en route to an eventual 82-63 final score. Freshman forward Ryan Betley opened the scoring with a three-pointer on Penn’s third possession and never relented, notching a career-high 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including five three-pointers, adding eight rebounds and two steals.
What Penn needed most during its 0-6 start to league play was some outside shooting it could rely on, which it got from Betley versus Cornell. And against the Lions, junior forward Sam Jones stepped up, going 5-for-11 from three-point range to produce 17 points along with four rebounds and three assists in just 25 minutes.
Penn’s defense shut Cornell down, holding the Big Red to 0.81 points per possession and collecting 22 turnovers, including 15 in the first half. Five different Red and Blue cagers pocketed at least two steals, and Penn held Cornell and Columbia to a combined 24-for-62 (38.7 percent) from two-point range for the weekend.
Freshman center AJ Brodeur loomed large in both games as well, posting 28 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in the two wins combined.
Penn could have folded when Columbia started half on 8-0 run and the Quakers were held scoreless in the first 4:25 of the second half. But then Jones made another three, Rothschild collected a steal on Columbia’s next possession, eventually leading to a Devon Goodman three and a block by Brodeur on Lions senior forward Luke Petrasek. That sequence represents the way Penn needs to wins games – with scrappy, opportunistic defense coupled with potent outside shooting. It’s what this roster was assembled to do, and it must do so at Brown Friday night if it wants to stay in the Ivy League Tournament picture.
T5. Brown (11-13, 2-6)
Brown looked like it was on the way to a huge win over Harvard midway through the second half Friday night. It got swept on the weekend instead, giving the game to the Crimson at the free throw line and yielding 45 points to Dartmouth in the second half of a 77-74 defeat.
Brown allowed 1.12 points per possession versus Dartmouth, which got hot from deep (12-for-23) and thus beat Brown at its own game. Midway through the second half versus the Crimson, the Bears uncharacteristically missed eight free throws in a 3:53 stretch, resulting in an 11-6 Harvard run when even when the Crimson weren’t necessarily outplaying them. Brown surprisingly struggled with Harvard’s transition game, even if the Bears’ offensive spacing and ball movement are still some of the best in the league. Brown shot just 6-for-24 (25 percent) from deep and at the other end allowed Harvard to score 1.14 points per possession. Brown’s strength (its offense) will collide with Penn’s strength (its defense) at the Pizzitola Sports Center Friday night.
T5. Cornell (6-16, 2-6)
Cornell scored 49 points in the second half at Penn after putting up just 14 in the first half, so the first half at Penn was just an aberration. Still, the Big Red attempted just five layups in the first half and made only two, a staggeringly low output inside for a Brian Earl offense. It’s an extreme example but still a lesson that the Big Red have been best this year when they successfully make higher-percentage choices. At Princeton, sophomore guard Matt Morgan went 6-for-6 from two-point range, and all six two-pointers were layups, including two that helped spur Cornell’s second-half comeback.
T5. Dartmouth (5-16, 2-6)
Congratulations to the Big Green for registering their first Ivy road win of the David McLaughlin era at Brown. The Big Green went 7-for-11 from three in second half, and they’re second in the league in Ivy play in in three-point percentage after being just seventh last year. If they can sustain that, they’ll be playing spoiler again.
Further congrats to senior guard Mike Fleming for offering his best collegiate game Saturday night and hitting the game-winning three-pointer with 55 seconds left, after having opened Dartmouth’s scoring with a three as well. Fleming notched a career-high 17 points with 3-for-5 shooting from deep as well as five assists, zero turnovers. Sophomore center Evan Boudreaux continues to put up consistently solid numbers, including 21 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals versus the Bears. Impressive going at Brown on Saturday night and outscoring the Bears, beating them at own game. The win over Brown came a night after the Big Green simply got scooped inside by a Yale team that shot 26-for-40 (65 percent) from two-point range. With Cornell and Columbia visiting Leede Arena next weekend, Dartmouth has a chance to get into the thick of the No. 4 seed race.